Humans are heat factories. If the average human being produces heat at a rate of 80ish watts, then 19 humans hunched together would radiate as much heat as my 1,500-watt space heater. Humans' surplus heat warms a housing project in Paris, a 13-story office building in Stockholm and the Mall of America in sub-freezing Minnesota.
A baseball stadium in the Midwest in October is, unlike a shopping mall, outdoors. But for a few hours it gathers an astounding quantity of hot mass -- roughly 7 million pounds of it, equivalent to 2,500 space heaters -- into a relatively dense seating area. If 19 people can heat the inside of a small room and several thousand can heat an office building, what might 47,325 people arranged in a ring around a baseball field do?
A baseball hit at a typical home run trajectory travels farther in warmer air, physicist Alan Nathan has shown. A change in temperature of one degree Fahrenheit affects the distance of a batted ball by about four inches, which means a half-degree would matter for two inches, a quarter of a degree for one inch -- and baseball, we all know, is a game of inches. In the biggest moments, it's often a game of even less than that.
Would 2,500 space heaters running nonstop for 3 hours, 46 minutes and 13 seconds have a collective effect on air temperature in a partially enclosed outdoor stadium by one degree Fahrenheit? "It seems plausible to me," Nathan tells us. "I can't say that I know with any authori-"
Let's stop you right there, Nathan. Plausible is enough for us. If humans' bioenergy could power the machine city in The Matrix, we believe it can power a baseball. It's an indirect power, not exactly propelling baseballs so much as freeing them to travel more easily through less dense air. And when David Freese hit a baseball to deep right field in the ninth inning of Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, we can believe that the 47,325 Cardinals fans weren't just wishing that it would carry slightly beyond the reach of Nelson Cruz, but they were actually causing it.
All hail the fan. All hail the crowd.